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Required, first-year college composition courses originated at Harvard in 1874 in response to complaints about upper classmen's poor writing. Thus, this problem is not new, but it is one that we can work together to redress.

In "The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University," Mike Rose explains that when writing is considered a "basic skill," this reductive conception of writing marginalizes composition instruction. For if writing is deemed a "basic skill," then it also is assumed that composition can be taught based on some simple rules by poorly paid adjuncts in one or two required courses.

Writing, however, involves much more than knowledge of a subject and grammar (the "think then write" model). Effective writing depends upon an understanding of composing as a multifaceted process, an awareness of discursive conventions, and an ability to think critically. Rose, therefore, recommends that writing courses should be rich in academic content and writing also should be taught across the curriculum.

The curriculum for RLC 110-111 is intellectually rich as students learn to think critically using historical and cultural analysis (see Connections). Students also learn to engage in the multifaceted process of writing, to conform to discursive conventions, and to meet college-level expectations for grammar. Of course, every students does not and cannot fulfill all of these goals in one or two terms. Instead writing instruction must be reinforced across the curriculum even though every professor has neither the class time nor the training to teach writing explicitly and thoroughly. Professors in many different departments can help to dispel student misconceptions about academic writing.

Continue on to the five myths about academic writing.

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